by Scott McClallen
A Freedom of Information Act request submitted to Kalamazoo Public Schools to learn how the district spent more than $63 million in federal taxpayer money was met with a $263.66 price tag.
The Center Square submitted the FOIA to KPS in late July.
The federal government gave $6 billion to more than 850 Michigan schools to assist students recover from COVID-19 learning loss. Several Michigan school districts have provided spending records of millions of federal COVID-19 money for free, but KPS hasn’t.
The KPS transparency page includes a seven-page spending plan as of Dec. 2, 2021, for Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief programs and a few others. The district said it would spend $63 million between 2019 and 2022. KPS planned to pay $3.9 million in 2019-20, $6.5 million in 2020-21, and $53.3 million in 2021-22.
Planned big purchases included:
- $16.2 million for projects to improve indoor air quality.
- $14.5 million to address learning loss.
- $12.2 million for “activities necessary to maintain the operation and continuity of services.”
- $4.1 million for pandemic preparedness and response.
- $2.1 million for student education technology.
It’s unclear if this is the final spending plan. KPS says that pulling COVID-19 spending records would cost 4.23 hours for the Assistant Superintendent of Operations at the hourly rate of $62.33.
KPS says it calculates labor costs for the Freedom of Information Act using the wage of the lowest paid district employee capable of searching for, locating, and examining the public records.
Some school districts – such as Austin, Texas – provided itemized spending of $242 million of COVID funds for free without needing a FOIA. The city of St. Louis has a website on which it posts all of its federal COVID expenditures. The city of Detroit and Detroit Public Schools Community District also attempts to track more than $1.2 billion of spending.
It’s unclear why KPS charges more than $250 for public records while other communities provide the information at no charge and even add it to their websites.
KPS didn’t respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.
Flint Public Schools, which received about $156 million of federal COVID relief, hasn’t responded to records requests for 13 business days, despite FOIA rules requiring them to respond within five business days after the FOIA coordinator received a request.
FPS received $50,000 per student but its unclear how that money will be spent, or why these schools don’t want to disclose spending records to taxpayers. One possible reason is that much of the spending might not directly address COVID-19 concerns.
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Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.
Photo “Kalamazoo Public Schools” by Kalamazoo Public Schools.